Geylang wingers good enough for Japanese third tier
Geylang duo unlikely to earn contracts from Yamaga but J2 club see potential in them
Gabriel Quak was praised for his speed and willingness to take on opponents, while Shawal Anuar was lauded for his good goal sense.
The two Geylang International wingers made an impression on second-tier J.League side Matsumoto Yamaga when the duo spent a stint there last week.
Yoshiyuki Kato, general manager of the Japanese club, feels that the players have the potential to play in the J.League one day but, to get to the big stage, they have to work their way up from the third division.
"When I evaluate them at this moment, they are unlikely to be core players in the second division," said Kato, 52, a former J1 League and J.League Cup double winner with Tokyo Verdy in 1993 and 1994.
"But they should be able to handle the demands of the J3 League. If they can play very well in J3, I believe they will get attention from other higher-division teams."
No Singaporean footballer has played professionally in Japan and there hasn't been an Asean footballer who has made a real impact in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Thai star Chanathip Songkrasin is hoping to shine in the J1 League after agreeing an 18-month loan deal with newly-promoted Consadole Sapporo.
To provide further proof that the J.League is of a high standard throughout its three divisions, newly-promoted J3 League side Azul Claro Numazu beat Yamaga 4-2 in last Sunday's friendly which featured three 40-minute sessions.
Quak and Shawal played in the third period with Yamaga already down 4-1, and showed glimpses of their ability.
Quak, one of two attacking midfielders in a 3-4-2-1 formation, settled down well despite playing in temperatures under 10 deg C that was made worse by wind and rain.
The 26-year-old, who has 21 caps and two goals for the national team, linked up well with wingback Kenta Hoshihara and drew gasps from the 500-strong crowd at the National Training Centre Shimizu with a delightful backheel one-two with his teammate on the right.
Shawal, 25, was thrown into an unfamiliar centre-forward position in training and the friendly and, while he did not score, he manfully tried to work his way into the game.
After getting feedback from the Yamaga coaching set-up including manager Yasuharu Sorimachi, a former Japan international and national team assistant coach, Kato said: "I value Gabriel's willingness to try and take on opponents. He is dangerous when he is dribbling against them at speed.
"It will be better if he moves about more to receive the ball, which will help him to dribble past opponents.
"Shawal has good speed and a good sense of goal.
"Despite his relatively small size, he is dangerous in the air. He is also good in his timing off the ball to get behind the defence.
"However, there is a lack of physical contact plays in his game and he loses out too easily in such challenges."
In all likelihood, Quak and Shawal will kick off their season in the S.League with the Eagles at Hougang United on Feb 27, but they are not about to give up on their ambitions of playing overseas.
"For a footballer like me who just turned professional two years ago, getting a taste of J.League football even for just five days was an eye-opener," said Shawal.
"The weather and food options were a challenge, but the players, officials and fans made us feel welcomed.
"It is definitely not easy to adapt to the cold and keep up with the intensity in a few days.
"The Japanese players' fitness, movement and reaction speed are what set them apart from Singapore football.
"Playing as a centre forward is also not what I'm used to, but I tried my best, managed a couple of goals in training and I learnt to be ready for such scenarios."
Quak added: "I have not had the opportunity to train and play in Japan even at youth level before, so this past week has been a dream come true, thanks to Geylang, Yamaga and Epson.
"Whether or not any J.League offer comes along, it's good to have experienced an entirely different culture.
"Yamaga took great care of us. We ate well, slept well and trained well in a very professional environment at the National Training Centre Shimizu.
"I gave everything I had throughout the week and I'm going back without any regrets.
"The local and Brazilian players in the team gave me good feedback and I hope to earn more opportunities to improve and test myself at such a high level."
David Lee's trip is courtesy of Epson, a sponsor of Matsumoto Yamaga and Geylang International.